Friday, May 19, 2017

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich, Illustrated by Adam Gustavson

My dad was an immigrant who loved music, and when he arrived in this country, he discovered all kinds of American music that he had never enough of heard in Wales. He often played Jazz, Gospel, and Folk Music, and one of his favorite musicians folk artists was Pete Seeger. 

In this picture book biography for older readers, Susanna Reich introduces them to the life and music of Pete Seeger, a man who was born to play the banjo and sing the songs he wrote. As a boy, Pete spent the winter at boarding school, and the summer living with his dad and brothers in his grandparents’ barn. There he played in the woods, played music and read books. After reading about how some Native American tribes believed that everything should be equally shared among its members, Pete decided that was the way he wanted to live, too.

Later, living in New York City during the Great Depression, Pete was further influenced by the workers’ rights protest songs that he heard at parties, concerts, and parades he and his dad participated in. Pete’s family may not have had much money in those days, but, thanks to Pete, they did have plenty of music - spirituals, work songs, dance tunes, games, songs, lullabies, love songs, ballads, field hollers, blues, and even chain-gang chants. 

For a while, Pete was allowed to tag along with Woody Guthrie as he toured the county singing his songs. Pete also began performing with a group called the Almanac Singers, feeling good be able to make a difference in the world. Later, performing with Woody and Paul Robeson, a African American singer, Pete realized that the life as a singer wasn’t easy and could also be dangerous, but one thing he learned from this experiences was that music could calm a angry crowd. 

Not long after joining another group of folk singers, the Weavers, they were blacklisted for not being “loyal Americans” and could no longer find any work. Eventually, however, Pete met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was so influenced by his song “We Shall Overcome,” that it became one of the most important songs of the Civil Rights Movement. And that was just the beginning of Pete’s work as a social activist, writing songs that protested the Vietnam War and and eventually, working to clean up his beloved Hudson River. 

Stand Up and Sing! is an engagingly written biography about one of America’s most gifted and influential activists who courageously used his music to inspire so many people into action. I particularly enjoyed reading Pete Seeger’s biography because he was such a big part of my childhood, yet I knew very little about his personal life, other than the word’s to his songs, all of which I still know by heart. And as Reich shows us, Pete was a man who never wavered in his principles or his dedication to music.  I'd say that those are pretty admirable traits.

Adam Gustavson’s illustrations, done using gouache, watercolor, color pencil and oil paint, are as soft and gentle as a Pete Seeger song, yet they too say so much. Complimenting the full color illustrations are spot back and white drawing that extend the narrative of this brave, talented man’s life.

Pete Seeger may seem a little on the old fashioned side to today’s music listeners, but in fact, he sang a message that is probably needed as much in today’s world as it was in his own time. Listen carefully to the words as he sings his, perhaps, most well known song:

You can find an excellent teaching guide to use with Stand Up and Sing! courtesy of Vicky Spandel at Six Trait Gurus 

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was sent to me by the author, Susanna Reich

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